Article

Teodora Miscov
Teodora Miscov 5 January 2018

Fancy avoiding New Year’s resolutions drama?

A New Year means a (nearly) blank canvas - how can we paint the best picture we can without falling in the trap of setting goals we will never achieve?

Are you one of those people who hate the whole New Year’s resolutions scam? Does the idea of having to listen to great statements of how people are going to change themselves make you shiver? And on top of it, you have to listen to them with a huge admiration and belief painted on your face, even though you know and they know (yes, most of the time they know it as well) that failure is just round the corner. Why bother... right? So, is it even worth making New Year’s resolutions at all?

First of all, before making any resolutions it is important to think them through from the priority point of view. How important is the change to you? What are you gaining? What losses are you preventing? Will you remain committed? If you experience any internal fear and hesitation at this point I advise you to give the resolution up. Why? Because you need to be ready for the change. Because when you promise something to yourself and you don’t follow through, you will crush your confidence, damage your self-esteem and weaken your reputation. Don’t be the person who keeps on announcing change and who never follows through. It is not cool, and you don’t want to be that kind of person.

The key is to change the way you think of New Year’s resolutions and to remember that there is no magic, there are no miracles and that you alone are responsible for following through. Nobody else.

And so, if you still claim that your New Year’s resolution is very important to you and you are willing to do all it takes to complete it, knowing some human psychology facts may come in handy. There are quite a few facts on how to manage your psychology and attitude to be successful at completing whatever it is you set for yourself. Below I’ll list the most important ones.

Willpower sucks
Self-control and willpower are finite resources which deplete with use (ego depletion). As a result, willpower doesn’t work long term, that’s it! Forget all you learned about your hero with a strong willpower that you admire everyday. Trust me, they haven’t achieved what they did by using willpower. If you are not convinced however, you can carry on with your old ways of doing stuff. You can fool yourself that willpower is all it takes for a day or two, but as soon as you are too tired to think clearly, you are bound to fail. Change your mindset instead and focus on tricking your brain to respond to certain situations in the way you want. That’s what your heroes do. Promise.

Think habits
The majority of New Year’s resolutions are linked to building desired habits i.e. eating more vegetables, spending more time with family, devoting time each week to learning a new language or to eliminating unwanted habits i.e. eating unhealthy snacks, smoking, binge drinking etc. Habits are automatic behaviours that we create over time and which once well-established result in conditioned responses. When willpower depletes, automatic behaviours kick in. Charles Duhigg who is the author of ‘The Power of Habit’ states that each habit consists of three stages: Cue, Routine, Reward. And so, if you want to create a habit you need to consciously build a three steps structure around it. For example, If you want to start running after work you may want to leave your running clothes out so that once you reach home you are faced with a Cue (running clothes), then link the Cue to Routine (running) and finally to a Reward (the feeling after a good run or a check on your to do list).

Your story
If you want to get a long-term behavior change, you can achieve it by changing your personal story. Everyone has a story about what kind of people they are and what values they follow. Humans are driven to seek consistency at any cost, and hence, if you truly believe that you are a fit and active person you will be driven to perform actions that support the idea of you as a fit person. Active people don’t eat crap food in front of the telly everyday, do they? And so, if you catch yourself lazing around you create an uncomfortable conflict in your mind. Internal conflict is painful and will force you to make decisions that match your idea of who you are. To be successful with your resolutions, you need to create a story for yourself and trick your brain into becoming the ideal you.

Framing
There is evidence that people are highly motivated by loss aversion which means that we are more driven to recover loss or prevent loss than we are by gains. You can use this knowledge to frame your resolution as recovering something lost e.g. recovering  your level of fitness. If you are already fit however and want to improve even more, you can think of how you would feel if you were to lose your current fit body. Reputation is also a powerful motivator that links to loss aversion as well as fear and pain motivation. Think of pain of not changing and lost reputation. You don’t want to be looked at as a loser, right?

Create environment that supports your actions
Think of how you could influence your surroundings to support your resolution (your newly established habits). Don’t store or buy your favourite unhealthy snacks if you want to lose weight. By clearing your environment, you remove the constant dialogue of ‘should I have a bite or not’. Out of sight, out of mind is the key to resisting temptation which was backed up by Walter Mischel and his Marshmallow Test. If you are thinking however of exercising more, you want to manipulate your environment to have things that keep on reminding you about exercising. You may want to sign up to a gym that you pass each day on your way from work, keep your running shoes out or do anything else that will make exercising and healthy lifestyle a part of your life and your identity.

Do you still think of New Year’s resolutions as something annoying? Maybe it all starts adding up? If you are a New Year’s resolutions person however, hopefully you started to give up the idea of this amazing day when you make a resolution, relax and watch all the good things happening to you? Steady progress is the key. One step at a time and you will get there. Just be smart about it, save yourself all the emotional drama, constant dilemma and stay cool!

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